What is a Gastrointestinal Hemorrhage?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 10 October 2018
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Gastrointestinal hemorrhage is bleeding anywhere along the length of the gastrointestinal tract, from the esophagus to the rectum. It is a symptom of an underlying medical problem and can be very serious, as there is a possibility of losing a very high volume of blood and going into shock. When gastrointestinal hemorrhage is identified in a patient, the focus is on stabilizing the patient and then determining the cause so it can be treated by a medical team. Treatments can include surgery, medications, and other measures to address the source of the bleeding.

The esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine can all potentially develop bleeds. Some causes include physical trauma, tumors, ulcers, polyps, and inflammatory disease processes. The patient may experience some pain, and can also note a change in the consistency of the stools, which may become loose in association with disease. The stool may look dark or actively bloody depending on where the bleed is located and can also have high volumes of mucus, appearing slimy.


A doctor can diagnose a gastrointestinal hemorrhage with a fecal occult blood test, looking for low levels of blood in the stool, and also simply by patient presentation, when a patient appears at the hospital with obvious signs of hemorrhage in the gastrointestinal tract like bleeding freely with each bowel movement. If substantial amounts of blood have been lost, the patient may feel weak or faint, and can become pale. This can eventually lead to shock, where the patient will lose consciousness altogether.

Treatments to stabilize patients can include infusions of fluids and/or blood to get the blood volume back up and address shock, along with keeping patients warm. Medications may be used to manage pain. Diagnostic testing like pathology analysis of the blood and stool, medical imaging studies, and endoscopy can be used to collect information about what is happening in the bowel. This information is used to develop an appropriate treatment plan for the patient.

Surgery may be required to correct a gastrointestinal hemorrhage, either by removing or repairing a segment of severely damaged intestine. Surgery may also be needed to remove polyps and cancerous growths if these are the cause of the gastrointestinal hemorrhage. In the case of people with severe inflammation, medications to control the inflammation, paired with bowel protectant medications to protect the lesions in the bowel and give them an opportunity to heal, can be part of treatment.



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